We will be studying the formal process by which a bill becomes a law. Yet that formal process sometimes masks informal procedures. More than 10,000 bills are introduced every year in Congress. Yet fewer than 400 are generally passed into law. In 2013, Congress approved just 55 laws and was the least productive group of legislatures in modern history. The House and Senate have spent about 36 hours per week in session, yet they passed one law on average each week. Many of these laws have been relatively inconsequential – bridges and hospitals have been named and old laws renewed. Congress has become dysfunctional. In part, this suggests that under the American political system, it is far easier to kill a proposed bill than to get one passed. Describe the various ways a bill can be killed. Given that so few bills introduced to Congress each year are actually passed, do you think that Congress’ rules should be changed to make it more difficult to defeat a bill? Be sure to justify your position with relevant supporting information.
Explain many of the ways in which a bill can be defeated:
• After being introduced and referred to committee, the committee or subcommittee chair can refuse to schedule hearings on the bill. Even if hearings are held, the committee chair can refuse to schedule a vote on the bill or decline to report on the bill, which means the bill will never leave committee. The vast majority of bills defeated in Congress every year are killed in committee.
• Complicated bills may be referred simultaneously to multiple committees, increasing the likelihood that the bill would die in committee.
• In the House, the Rules Committee can decline to grant a bill a rule. If the House Rules Committee does not set the rules for debating a bill in the House, that bill will not go to the floor for a vote. Even if it schedules a bill, it can create rules intended to disadvantage the bill, making it less likely to pass.
• In the Senate, the Majority leader can similarly decline to schedule the consideration of a bill in the Senate. The minority party can also prevent the Senate from considering a bill by denying unanimous consent, which is required under Senate rules.
• In the Senate, individual senators can issue a hold to prevent consideration of any bill. A senator can also filibuster, keeping a bill from the floor to prevent the Senate from considering and voting on a bill. Ending a filibuster (through a process called cloture) requires 60 votes.
• Even after a bill is passed by both chambers, it can be defeated in conference committee. The leadership of the House or the Senate could decline to name members to fill the Conference Committee. Or the Conference Committee could fail to come to agreement and reconcile competing House and Senate versions of the bill.
• If the Conference Committee comes up with a report (the final version of a bill), the House or the Senate could again refuse to schedule a vote on the report.
• Once the bill is passed by Congress, the President can veto legislation. Sometimes even the threat of presidential veto is sufficient to defeat a bill in Congress.